Florida limped into its bye week with a 4-3 record and serious existential questions to answer about the program’s direction under Dan Mullen.

How rough has 2021 gone for the Gators thus far?

Florida has yet to register a quality win and likely won’t, at least in the regular season, unless it finds a way to upset No. 1 Georgia next week in the Cocktail Party. The Gators have won just 2 of their previous 8 contests against Power 5 opposition, and the only person whose decision matters continues to play Emory Jones at quarterback, despite the rest of the football world having recognized that whatever the strengths of Jones, Anthony Richardson is a better player.

On the other side of the ball, Todd Grantham’s defense continues to be maddeningly inconsistent. One Saturday, he’s being praised for his adjustments against Alabama. Another weekend, LSU is piling up 321 yards rushing on 45 attempts, mostly running the same counter trey play.

With a turnover-prone offense (the Gators rank 13th in the SEC in turnover margin) and a defense that can’t be trusted, Florida appears headed for its first non-New Year’s 6 bowl season since a combination of Jim McElwain and Randy Shannon went 4-7 in 2017.

What will the 2nd half of the season hold for the Gators? Here are 8 bold predictions.

1. Florida finishes in the top 25 nationally in total defense

Is this the boldest pick in this list? Keep reading to find out.

Grantham’s unit currently ranks 39th in total defense. The Gators rank 28th in yards allowed per play, however. And they will face only 1 offense down the stretch (Georgia) that ranks in the top 25 in yards per play and only 2 (Georgia and FSU) that rank in the top 50.

There’s no guarantee Kaiir Elam plays the whole season, but the Gators’ defense should improve down the stretch, if only because the competition softens after the Cocktail Party.

2. Mullen continues to play 2 quarterbacks

If you are a Florida fan, you want this prediction to be wrong.

After all, with 3 losses and the team all but eliminated from New Year’s 6 bowl competition, isn’t it time to turn the reins over to Anthony Richardson?

Jones has had his moments. He can play quarterback in the Power 5. He showed that against Alabama and Tennessee.

He’s also a big reason the Gators lead the SEC in interceptions (12) and a huge source of fan frustration, given the seemingly transcendent talent of his backup. Here, it feels important to note that Richardson has thrown 3 interceptions in only 37 attempts, and each of his was of the “what in the world are you thinking” nature.

Richardson hasn’t started a game yet, and the offense seems to flow better when he plays. But Jones has 2 things working in his favor. First, he hasn’t been terrible. He has just been inconsistent — a common issue for a 1st-year starting quarterback in the SEC. Second, Mullen is famously loyal and also fancies himself as the smartest guy in the room. Between loyalty and the “Dan knows best” ego, there’s a good chance Mullen sticks with Jones, a 4th-year player who has done everything he has been asked and has waited his turn, at least in some capacity.

3. The Cocktail Party is an instant classic

Is this the most bold take? The Georgia fans who pay rent in the comments section of Florida columns will certainly argue it is.

Yet how many Cocktail Parties in the last 10 years have been routs? 2015? Yep. 2017? Absolutely. 2020? Florida did win by 16 and scored 41 out of 48 points during one 2-quarter stretch, so you could call it a rout, but the Dawgs made the game quite competitive for a quarter. Otherwise? Eight of the last 12 Florida-Georgia games were 1-possession games in the 4th quarter.

The Gators will be playing to salvage something — anything — from their season.

The Dawgs will be playing to avenge last season’s loss. But regardless of what happens in Jacksonville, Georgia will still be in the driver’s seat for a College Football Playoff berth and an SEC East crown.

Plus, the last time Georgia won the national title, it played a classic against a hungry Gators team with nothing to lose.

I’ve already predicted that Georgia will win the national championship for the 1st time since 1980 this season. Once again, a close game against Florida will be the biggest scare the Bulldogs have in a championship season.

4. The Gators finally win a close game — against FSU

Florida is 0-7 since 2019 in games decided by 7 points or fewer.

FSU is only 1 win better than Florida (3-5) in its last 8 games against Power 5 opponents.

The ‘Noles will visit The Swamp this November looking for a signature win under Mike Norvell. Florida State and Norvell are already beating the Gators consistently on the recruiting trail, but they haven’t shown much against Florida on the field.

That will change this November, as FSU will leave it all on the field and push Florida. But the Gators, led by Richardson, will find a way to win and extend their win streak over FSU to 3 games.

5. 5 runners with 50 carries or more average more than 5 yards per attempt

Entering the Georgia game, the Gators rank 3rd in the country in yards per play on offense, which ranks 1st in the SEC. The biggest reason Florida’s offense has been so explosive? A power running game that averages 254.8 yards per game, good for 4th in the country.

At SDS, we wrote before the season that the Gators’ deep, versatile running back room had a chance to be one of the nation’s best.

That has proven to be the case. Florida has 3 running backs — Malik Davis, Nay’Quan Wright and Dameon Pierce — averaging 5 yards or more per carry, all with 40 carries or more. Add in Jones (5.8 per carry) and Richardson (12.4) and the Gators should have 5 players with 50 or more carries, all of whom average 5 yards per carry or more. That’s prolific stuff.

6. Elam plays against Georgia and FSU — but not often in the remaining games

Elam seemed destined for All-America honors after a massive game on a national stage against Alabama. He has still allowed only 2 receptions (1 for a touchdown against LSU) on 10 targets this season.

But a leg injury suffered against Alabama cost Elam 3 games, and with the Gators firmly out of the SEC picture, the future 1st-round pick won’t want to risk his financial future too much over the rest of the campaign.

Expect him to play — and play well — against Georgia and Florida State. Otherwise, all bets on Elam appearances are off.

7. Zachary Carter leads the SEC in sacks at season’s end

Carter enters Georgia week 2nd in the SEC in sacks with 6.5. Georgia and Missouri rank in the top 5 nationally in protecting their quarterbacks (4th and 5th, respectively, in QB sacked percentage).

But Florida’s other remaining opponents — South Carolina, Samford and FSU — are horrible at pass protection. Carter will feast in those games and finish the season just ahead of Will Anderson Jr. of Alabama and Sam Williams of Ole Miss for the SEC sacks crown.

8. Grantham’s contract is not renewed

Many Florida fans feel, with some justice, that Grantham should have been fired last year, when the worst Florida defense since the 1970s may have cost the Gators a shot at the national championship.

This season, with another offense piling up the yardage, Florida fans continue to feel aggrieved. And it is difficult to fathom how or why Grantham remained employed after Florida’s embarrassing defensive performance at LSU.

Then again, Florida’s defense has had its moments, and Mullen is notoriously loyal. Would he dare stick with his buddy Grantham again?

This would require a contract extension for Grantham, whose contract runs out after the season.

Our guess? It won’t be renewed, and Florida will have a new defensive coordinator — and defensive staff, save perhaps defensive line coach David Turner — in 2022.